Somali police officials have launched an investigation into the brutal death of a Minneapolis-born boarding school student following mounting pressure from U.S. authorities.
In an e-mail to the young man's family, Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office said that authorities in Puntland, a region of northern Somalia, had begun a probe into the death of 17-year-old Ammar Abdihamid Abdirahman. The announcement came weeks after the U.S. State Department got involved, insisting that local authorities take seriously the death of an American citizen.
Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi increased pressure on Puntland authorities in recent weeks after learning of the death.
Abdirahman was reportedly tortured and killed in early May by a group of attackers who entered his dorm room, said Somali community activist Omar Jamal. Investigators are expected to look into reports that the headmaster of the since-shuttered school was involved in the assault.
The boy's cries for help could be heard from outside the room by his roommates, including several other young men from Minneapolis, Jamal said.
An initial autopsy suggested that Abdirahman died of strangulation.
For months, Abdirahman's mother, Shukri Hersi, heard nothing from Puntland authorities about the circumstances surrounding his death, until she decided to contact state authorities for help, Jamal said.
Jamal said that Hersi had initially been reluctant to approach authorities about her son's death after hearing from some community members who insisted that doing so would be courting more trouble.
"The mother was completely misled and misinformed and I don't understand why some members of the community are telling her to go quietly into the night," he said. "I don't want the Somali community to be afraid of the U.S. government."
Jamal said that her fears were compounded by the recent arrests of a group of young Somali men accused of plotting to support Sunni extremists in the Middle East, a high-profile case that has strained relations between the local immigrant community and law enforcement.
It isn't uncommon for Somali parents to send their children to boarding schools in their homeland to become more attuned with their culture and learn discipline, community leaders say. The practice, called dhaqan celis (loosely translated as "rehab kids"), isn't without controversy, as critics point out that the students, many of whom were born in the United States, often encounter a similar cultural gap in Somalia.
A spokeswoman for the State Department didn't respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Daniel Kennedy, an attorney for the family, on Tuesday corrected comments made in an earlier television news report suggesting that his client had been killed because he was American.
"I think it's a situation where in a tragedy like this, you search for a reason," Kennedy said.